And Then There Were Four (with Thank Yous)

Let me tell you a story about the most stressful month of my career. Maybe, my life.

It began with uncertainty and unpredictability, and ended with euphoria.

And an addition to our family.

Starting mid-November, the Silvertips were set for a two-game road trip against the Prince George Cougars, a destination nine-and-a-half hours away from Everett – not just where the Silvertips play, but also the residence of (what was) my family of three – including my wife, nearly full-term pregnant. As it was her second pregnancy, medical expertise suggested our baby boy to be would possibly come early.

Six hours into the trip (we stopped in Kamloops, overnight, en route to Prince George), my wife begins feeling contractions.

She asked me home, anticipating possible labor. Home I went.

No labor.

We went through the next week with four games in five days, phone and back-up announcers ready.

No labor.

The week of Thanksgiving was beyond unpredictable. I stayed home from Tri-City with the pass presenting treacherous conditions (and 3.5 hours of a return drive – minimum – risking my return too late for our son’s birth). Then on Friday vs. Spokane, Amy was admitted to the hospital with a medical emergency – another condition that likely accelerates labor.

No labor.

Saturday vs. Vancouver: maybe the scariest day of my life.

(No labor, either).

Without presenting the details to ensure the privacy of my firstborn son down the road, a serious medical emergency pulled me away from game preparation at 12:15pm. Lukas needed to go to the hospital, and he needed all of us there, within the family. One check-out at 3:30 pm sent him home after the scare. Another check-in was necessary at 7:05pm at Providence Medical Center, and we finally went home for good at 10:00pm – just over the same length it took for the Tips to defeat Vancouver, 5-2.

We reached Amy’s due date this past Tuesday, the same night as the Silveritps Hockey Show.

No labor.

The next day was our preferred induction date, but then were told by medical professionals that labor inducing needed to wait until Monday, Dec. 4 unless Amy was thrown into another serious medical condition.

Well, we didn’t have to wait long though. It was finally “go time” on Thursday morning.

Labor.

Upon check-in at Providence Medical Center, Liam safely entered the world.

We could prepare for so much that would surround the big day, but the journey there was nearly unpredictable. This is where “life happens.”

My passion for the broadcast booth and the nightly enjoyment of Silvertips fans wanted me in there each and every game, but in a world where many of us live by the mantra “family first,” I needed to be there as a Dad – first and foremost.

That’s why as the Benton clan has grown to four, I couldn’t get back into the broadcast booth, full swing without giving big thank yous:

  • Dan Todoroff: Tips in-arena emcee, and day-job as director of operations, for taking on the brave task of two games filling in for play-by-play – and two more in a color analysis role.
  • Dave Sheldon: The former full-time Tips color analyst, and Chilliwack radio voice, for filling in the two games at Prince George when we had a false alarm. He’s a pro.
  • Countless members of the front office: Katrina Koontz, Nicole Proulx, Joel Anderson, Sarah Roetcisoender, Kelsie Noble, Zack Bradford, Staci C. to start. In the light of an absence from work, they were willing and embracing of the possibility to help fill in the gaps behind the scenes.
  • Zoran Rajcic: Our fearless boss, who communicates the importance of “family first,” and allows people to focus on those responsibilities when the needs arise. He demonstrated incredible patience and heartwarming empathy. He’s a tremendous boss.
  • Extended family: Grandfather Bob VanderWal, Grandmother Lavonne VanderWal, Brother-In-Law Jason VanderWal – for agreeing to move the arrival date up a few days from California to help with the final stages of pregnancy and family responsibilities attached to the big event.
  • The Team: For the congratulations, asking with interest how the baby and Mom were doing, and even an appreciated invite to bowling. It helped take the mind off a lot of things.
  • You, dear listener: For being flexible when I projected a return to the booth after absence, and it stayed in a continuous “day-to-day” status.
  • Lastly: my wife, Amy … she’s a warrior (no epidural for either delivery), she’s understanding of my responsibilities, and she’s not afraid to ask when she needs the extra help.

Thanks for keeping your ear to the dial with the names above helping fill the gaps, and for your patience with my return to the booth. I was thrilled to be back for Teddy Bear Toss – the 999th game behind the hockey mic in my career.

(#1,000 will be Wednesday night vs. Portland.)

More importantly – family is happy and healthy. The tears of joy that flooded my face when Liam arrived felt like the size of Puget Sound.

About the little guy? He’s strong, a tad quieter than Lukas, but already has Mom and Dad in his physical features.

Can’t wait to bring Amy, Lukas, and Liam to a game near you.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is in his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

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CAMP ENTRY: Breaking Out of the Shell


[** Update: we’ve been informed the Rookie Game will now start at 5:30pm. Plan accordingly. Admission is free.**]

FRIDAY: By the time [*goal*] you finish [*goal*] reading this [*goal*], our hope is [*goal*] you’ll be more [*goal*] informed [*goal*] and entertained.

[*goal*]

Sorry, had that 3pm Blue vs Grey scrimmage stuck in my head.

Blue won, 8-5. Spoiler alert: Matt Fonteyne and Orrin Centazzo (10 points in camp) each had three points.

More nuggets coming along from Friday, but for now, here is where everything stands for the scrimmage chapter of training camp:

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 6.13.51 PM

The Tips Rookie Game is 5pm on Saturday, followed by the 1:30pm Green vs. Grey Game on Sunday. As a reminder, for games at XFINITY Arena, admission is free. It may be said “the best things in life aren’t free,” but you can never go wrong with free hockey.

Among the developments from today:

  • Team Blue leads with a +5 goal differential and has buried 18 goals in 3 games. While you can’t place 100 percent stock into training camp, like a baked good that’s only been in the oven for 30 seconds, the names down the line bear little to no surprise this is happening: Fonteyne, Centazzo (as articulated above with a whopping 10 points), Dawson Butt, ’17 second rounder Jackson Berezowski, Conrad Mitchell, and former Red Deer Rebel Quinn Martin. Jake Christiansen is the elder statesman on the blueline.
  • Team Grey isn’t too far behind with 16 goals in the 3 games. Patrick Bajkov, Ethan Browne, Connor Dewar, prospect Brayden Morrison, and defenseman Montana Onyebuchi are among the notables still in the hunt for the prospect round robin title. There really hasn’t been one shift I’ve seen, involving Bajkov/Dewar/Browne where something HASN’T happened.
  • We had more conversations with notable Tips prospects that you could be hearing from in the future. One fun did you know: BC native (and ’17 draftee) Kent Johnson goes back as family friends with Ryan Johansen (Portland) and Lucas Johansen (Kelowna). The games of shinny have been few and far between recently, for obvious reasons, but a strong WHL connection still remains intact.

 

Browne stopped gracefully to say a few words into the recorders of mine and (Everett Herald) Jesse Geleynse:

  1. QUESTION: How productive was this summer?

BROWNE: Really good, I got stronger, that helps. It’s good to be back with the boys.

  1. QUESTION: You were up and down with the team a couple of times last year. How did that help heading into this year?

BROWNE: It showed me how to play systems, the league, and it’s a lot different compared to midget.

  1. QUESTION: What’s the biggest difference from midget to this level?

BROWNE: It’s more passive with regards to the forechecks: there’s only one guy forechecking so you have a lot of time when you’re in your own zone. (Reporter: patience with the puck, the better) Yes, that’s my skill – patience with the puck.

  1. QUESTION: How was the summer with regards to getting ready for your rookie year?

BROWNE: Just working out every day, I went to morning shinny at 5am (Reporter: you’re a morning person!) Sometimes.

  1. QUESTION: Have you talked with Dennis Williams as far as your role for this year, or is it too early for that?

BROWNE: It’s too early for that. I still haven’t talked to him because we’re still early in camp.

  1. QUESTION: How often do you keep in contact with fellow members of your draft class, like Mark Liwiski?

BROWNE: I’m actually very good friends with Liwiski. I talk to him every good day, we’re good pals.

  1. QUESTION: What do you like most about his game?

BROWNE: Oh – he’s physical, aggressive, likes to get in your face. He can probably fight too.

  1. QUESTION: Anybody else you watched last year or seen this year that you’re looking forward to playing with?

BROWNE: Well, I went to school with Conrad Mitchell in eighth grade. He’s crazy good now. He’s fast, it amazed me seeing him play. We went to school at Vimy Ridge Academy (in Edmonton, Alberta).

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

CAMP ENTRY: Day 2, Painting the Canvas.


START PAINTING THAT CANVAS

There are three games, nearly 100 players, and about roughly 12 hours to cover in a full day.

Welcome to training camp, the most wonderful time of the year.

What’s appreciated is seeing the rapid progression and evolution of the developing human frame that’s suited to fit in major junior hockey equipment.

Connor Dewar’s bigger. Orrin Centazzo is bigger (and faster). Conrad Mitchell, signed but yet to play in a WHL game, looks as tall as a light post on skates (and he can move).

Ethan Browne, another Tips blue chipper, is more slick. Bajkov, Davis, and Fonteyne are up to their old tricks.

It’s enough progression to make any hockey centric mind salivate. Proof: the Tips typically bring in catered goods from Major League Pizza, El Paraiso, and Jersey Mike’s for the world class wrecking crew of hockey scouts. All the leftovers were cleaned out today by 11:30am.

Other observations that stuck out, from the moments where I could relax and lay eyes on the developing play:

  • Browne, as mentioned above, never missed a tape-to-tape pass. He had one goal in the morning session that was a complete roof job, and his decision making off the rush (read: patience with the puck) resembled a savvy vet.
  • This year’s first rounder, Ronan Seeley: also looking like a solid gem on the blueline, using his skating ability to deliver pucks out of his own zone in rapid fashion. Also chipped in with a goal that was deflected off traffic from the point. Some point to his skill foundation and mutter, “Kevin Davis.” That’s good.
  • There were three plays by Centazzo that made me drop my jaw. First was a breakaway goal, backhand deke, executed from a high rate of speed off the rush. Then there was the thread-the-needle pass to Quinn Martin on a 2-on-1 goal, then there was a low snapper off the rush from the right circle. Centazzo is fully healed, and ready to go.
  • Brendan Morrison (NHL vet, with plenty of stories to share) and son, Brayden (Tips prospect, in camp) are both extremely articulate. We’re putting this story and conversation into video form. Look for more soon.

Before shuffling off to Everett Memorial Stadium to get a tutorial from Dennis Williams and Mitch Love on how to appropriate throw a baseball (yours truly had a little league career high of 3-for-23 one season), I caught up with Connor Dewar.

He’s fresh off Toronto Maple Leafs development camp, too.

  1. MIKE BENTON: How was the summer?

CONNOR DEWAR: Very good, hung out with buddies and family. Spent a lot of time training.

  1. MB: How much more compared to years past?

CD: I took it more seriously I think. Going into camp with Toronto there were a few things I picked up and applied to how I’m training today.

  1. MB: How faster is the game in that environment?

CD: It was pretty fast, scrambled. Different game than what I’m used to.

  1. MB: How much did you understand what it takes to be on the right track to the pro level?

CD: Just that everything matters. You have to take care of yourself, work hard every day, and do something every day to get better.

  1. MB: What kind of goals have you set for this year, and how much weight have you put on?

CD: Just play one game at a time, and do the best I can. Officially I put on 5-6 pounds.

5a. MB: Is there really such thing as putting on too much weight (like 20 pounds)?

CD: I think so. It’s really hard for your body to move, and four months (of an offseason) is a really short time for your body to get adjusted to learning how to move again. It’s about pace, you have to be quick.

  1. MB: What makes you excited about this season?

CD: Change is always exciting. There’s more opportunity and a great chance to learn from someone else.

FYI: the Tips were at the AquaSox game spreading hockey (and, really, PNW) love. Both coaches delivered some solid tosses.

 

Reminder: training camp moves to the big ice inside XFINITY Arena on Friday. First matchup: a little past 8am.

Get your coffee ready.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

CAMP ENTRY: Hello, Next Chapter.


Check-in day is almost like the first day of school.

There are smiles, handshakes, “bro hugs,” and endless “how was your summer” chat.

It’s not so awkward when you see familiar faces. It’s even more energizing when you see a new face you’ve been told about, or you hear about.

Beginning Thursday, the pieces will be in place for everything to start coming together on the 15th season of Everett Silvertips hockey.

Setting out to defend their U.S. Division title with deeper goals in mind (see below interview), the Silvertips have a fresh approach at the top of the coaching chain in newcomer Dennis Williams. There will be a familiar, deep, and convincing voice in assistant coach Mitch Love.

How will things line up for this season? It’s unfair in late August to make a prediction. But when you have a bulk of your lineup returning (older, bigger, and wiser) and goaltender Carter Hart back, you always have a chance.

So, here’s to the clean sheet of ice and clean sheet of artistic design that begins to receive texture on day 1 of training camp.

Observations:

  • Defenseman Kyle Walker, signed as a listed player last fall, has bulked up to roughly “6-foot-3 and 210 pounds” by his own accord.
  • Connor Dewar, energized off a trip to Toronto Maple Leafs development camp, added 10 more pounds of muscle.
  • Orrin Centazzo is back on ice and 100 percent after Kolby Johnson’s high hit in Prince Albert ended his season in February.
  • There are now two players with NHL father-son bloodlines either in camp as signed, or drafted with the Tips: Riley Sutter (Ron), and prospect Brayden Morrison (Brendan). FYI: Brendan, a great chat in the hallway, is now 42 and still looks like he can center an NHL top line.
  • If you’re coming to Tips training camp: 1) expect to see rosters around the rink by the first scrimmage at 11am. There’s continuous shuffling, reason we’re told they aren’t available until the 11th hour. 2) Head to XFINITY Community Ice Rink for the Thursday scrimmages. As of now, the rest of camp will be hosted inside XFINITY Arena starting Friday.

Expected to play a critical role as a 20-year old, Matt Fonteyne is as “homegrown” as they come. I stopped him in the hallway:

  1. MIKE BENTON: Talk to me, how was your summer?

MATT FONTEYNE: Really good, had a good summer back home (in Wetaskawin, Alberta). Hung out with family and friends. It’s good to be back.

  1. MB: How bigger are you and how stronger are you?

MF: I changed up my workout routines this year and tried focusing on quickness, speed, and explosiveness. I feel good.

  1. MB: How much does that provide a renewed feeling with you, Patrick Bajkov, and Kevin Davis returning?

MF: We had one of the youngest teams in the league last year – third youngest in the west. So we have a good core group back and a lot of young guys who looked good today. When you have Carter Hart in net it helps  you win games. Coming back this year, we’re really excited for what the season holds.

  1. MB: What made you excited about what you saw out of Bajkov?

MF: He had a breakout year last year – then Dominic Zwerger helped both of us from on the ice and off the ice. We tried to pick up as much from him, because he’s like a pro on and off the ice. Patty and I will try to build on that this season.

  1. MB: What is it about Zwerger’s habits in detail that help you?

MF: I’d say that he was in the league for so long. And now he’s playing with pros in Europe. He loves what he’s doing. He has fun on the ice which leads to being creative. Whenever you get to play with a guy like that it really helps you and he’s a friend of mine now.

  1. MB: What kind of goals have you set this year?

MF: I’d say going further than the second round and building to the Conference Final or WHL Finals. When you build for team goals, individuals are going to have success. When the team does well, all of our young guys and veterans will do well.

  1. MB: Who has better hair on this team other than Montana Onyebuchi?

MF: I’d say Wyatte (Wylie). He’s been grooming it all summer and preparing for team pictures today. But it’s pretty hard to beat (Onyebuchi). He’s got a pretty good head of hair going on.

Day 1, training camp. ⚠️ Montana Onyebuchi swag alert. ⚠️

A post shared by Mike Benton 🎙 (@bentononthemic) on

 

  1. What was the first chat like with Dennis Williams?

MF: Really good and casual. He’s great and easy to talk to. So I’m excited to see more of his kind of coaching style and how we’ll play with it this year.

Let’s get it going.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

The Nashville Predators and Their Fans Are Supposed to Bring Us Joy.


I start out with this disclaimer: aside from a mentor in the broadcast booth and a friend in the front office, I have no stake in the horse race.

That being said, let’s face it: the Nashville Predators have fans. And they don’t just have fans. They have rowdy fans.

They have creative fans.

They have fans designed to bring us joy.

They have fans to inspire us.

They are here to get people, who usually don’t talk about the game, to talk about it.

So, what joy we’re experiencing in this Stanley Cup Final, because of Nashville.

Do they have 50 years of history? A conga line of “Who’s Who?” A place in two of the longest games in hockey history?

Nope. But they’ve been around for nearly 20 years, have one of the game’s most electrifying and recognizable stars (who understands the word, “spotlight”), and play in the entertainment capital of “country.” There’s a reason people in the business refer to it as, “Nash Vegas.”

Bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, sporting events are “entertainment.” They get it.

Please, let’s spare the dreaded “B” word for them (it ends with something that rhymes with “lagon”). A decade ago, they saved the franchise from relocation.

Their chants are part creativity, part savage, part volume. They are a gas. It sounds like a college basketball game, where student sections are in your ear from start to finish and so ruthlessly do their homework on the opposing players for taunt material. Quite frankly, it’s neat.

“But are they hitching up the ol’ bandwagon? But do other teams have outdoor gatherings like nearby Bridgestone Arena? But, but don’t they have any ‘respect’?”

Answers: no, yes, and definitely yes. Their moment has been nearly brewing for 20 years (think of where teams like the Kings, Blues, and Penguins were around 1986-87). What Nashville is doing along it’s row of establishments is like a block party that doesn’t know what time it ends. And as far as “respect”? The only thing that has breached the ice surface was a former aquatic life form thrown from human hands. I think we’ve seen this movie before.

They have the country music and entertainment world in their face, and talking about them. They have a Hall of Famer and TV analyst from another sport crashing their party and talking about them (and the sport in general).

And in general, people outside of the diehard hockey bubble are finding hockey “interesting.”

It’s time to embrace their dialect on the game, if they haven’t been embraced already.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

 

My Moments, Your Moments.


As previously penned in a previous piece (think we have used our quota of letter “P’s” for one sentence now), the end of the season calls typically dictates our brain, emotion, thought pattern and keyboards as to “what really happened.”

Granted: it means you may be peacefully reflective on a season where not many people predicted the Tips to do great things. You may be upset and frustrated with how this season ended.

Quite alright.

For a Silvertips team that breached the 100 point mark for the second time in franchise history, surpassed 40 wins, and won a staggering fifth division banner in 14 seasons in spite of a young and (literally and figuratively) “green” squad, we all share a cornucopia of moments to pick from.

My top five moments (heads up: #1 is lengthy, but for good reason), if you don’t mind reading the reflection:

  1. FIVE OVERTIMES, WINNER BY BABYCH, MAKING HISTORY: Victoria on the day/night of April 2 will be one we’ll never forget. The Tips 3-2 win in five overtimes set a new CHL record for longest game ever, opened the door for the second round, and marked the fourth longest game in North American hockey history (they were seconds away from surpassing Philly / Pittsburgh in the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs). People have asked me, “what’s it like calling five overtimes?”

    I’ll give you one simple answer: thrilling, and exhausting.

    My anticipation grew with the end of each OT period. I began to think, “how am I going to appropriately articulate this no matter what team wins?” I also began to run out of liquids. The press box ran out of water by the end of the second overtime. My wife and son were on the trip (an added bonus, thanks to the boss for the green light) and after repeated visits to the booth between overtimes, had to bail after OT three (our dinner plans obliterated, so they went out for Wendy’s instead, so we could eat before the ferry — more on that in a bit). With pacing of voice inflection and diction into the fourth and fifth OT, things finally came to a summit on the Babych goal, that’ll forever be a  part of my top collection of calls.

    After the sign-off to the postgame show: I shook hands with Marlon Martens and the Victoria crew in the home booth, then literally plopped to the ground exhausted, headset still attached (they asked if I was alright, I joked in pseudo-psychosis that I was making a snow angel).

    I signed off and had a grand total of 45 minutes to: pack, wrap up postgame media duties, rush to the family SUV, and still drive 30 minutes to the nearest ferry terminal to make it on time for a 9:00pm departure. No chance.

    Packing up, then several bear hugs with the Tips as we crossed paths in the hallway, were followed by a stroll past the Victoria dressing room area where 100 fans were mourning the end of the Royals season, while Dave Lowry and several players still graciously gave posthumous interviews ending each in grateful applause. The scene was surreal. Meanwhile, my wife and I had an exhausted two-year old son on our hands, already crashed and burning in his car seat (parents: you know how the kiddos get when they’re tired), so we cut our schedule losses and spent one more night back at the hotel. After we put our son to bed, Amy and I finally were able to indulge in the tastiest history-influenced, five-overtime dinner ever: cold Wendy’s Chicken Wraps off the bathroom counter while our son slept in the portable crib of his quiet corner in hotel bedroom (and every bite was worth it). Silver lining: my wife is a fourth grade teacher, the next day was the beginning of spring break, and my boss said “no need to come into the office”. Waking up at 7am to the crystal-clear skies of Victoria next morning, explaining the whole scene on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, and taking a gradual amount of time to get back felt so good.

    (PS, I saved nearly everything – notes, scoresheets, etc. from the press box / booth that night. Plans are underway to turn that into a wall relic of some sorts for the office or press box at XFINITY Arena).

  2. FINISH ‘EM OFF, U.S. DIVISION STYLE: Two weekends prior, the Tips (and all of us) woke up Saturday morning in a different country. By 4:45pm, we were finally back home but had to get into the home digs “road game style” to face the Victoria Royals in the second game of a “home and home” series. It wasn’t just the fact it was Fan Appreciation Night: a Tips win paired with a Seattle loss meant the 2016-17 U.S. Division title belonged forever into the rafters of XFINITY Arena. Five hours later after a dizzying 5-2 win, paired with Portland’s win in Kent 45 minutes south, downtown Everett was in bedlam with the Tips celebrating on the ice and nearly 8,000 fans in party mode. I took a deep breath and long look while on the ice, seconds before the postgame awards ceremony. Downtown Everett was goosebumps city.
  3. LETTING ‘ER RIP IN REGINA: You want a litmus test? Here’s one: with the struggling Silvertips finding a second wind on the treacherous path of the East Division swing, they won five of six games. The signature win, 4-2 at Brandt Centre over the lethal Regina Pats, delivered: an assist in Sean Richards’ return, the Tips first win in Regina since Dec. 7, 2010, and an extinguishing of the Pats’ 11-game winning streak before 5,400 fans in what was a great looking midweek environment. Simply put: this was a stern test to answer “ok, how real are the Tips?” The question was answered in resounding fashion (the trip also began the “suit / sweater combo” fad … after this win, I wasn’t letting go).
  4. COMING OUT SWINGING: February 26 at ShoWare Center: the Tips were beaten, and bean soundly in a 6-1 massacre. You figured they really had to be ready after Keegan Kolesar called it the “biggest game of the season.” Good news: they had a do-over, and a chance to turn tables one weekend later. In downtown Everett, they turned the tables, then flipped it on the Thunderbirds. One 4-2 win later before a sellout crowd of 8,249, the Tips outshot their rivals from Kent 40-17, built a lead as big as 3-0 in the first period, and essentially never looked back. The Tips and T-Birds would teeter between first and second place over the last two weeks of the season, but the Tips had games in hand (which, they took full advantage of), and this was the win that perhaps sent the U.S. Division title chase into a permanent positive course.
  5. STARING IN THE EYE OF THE TIGER: Perhaps the first statement making win at home for the Tips was Dec. 2, in a 4-3 win over a Medicine Hat Tigers squad that offensively resembled a buzzsaw. Averaging over four goals per game and en route to a 50-win season under Shaun Clouston (most since the 06-07 championship season under Willie Desjardins), the Tips hacksawed Medicine Hat’s high octane set-up and enjoyed their only hat trick of the season: Patrick Bajkov’s natural delight which included a record setting two goals in 15 seconds.

Honorable mention: Teddy Bear Toss – for everything. The goal (scored lated in the second period), Tuulola’s reaction, then the always-goosebumps inducing theatre of fur flying on the ice made for an amazing moment. 

Let’s hear yours (thanks friends, via Facebook, Twitter, and blog comments). When you’re done reading this, soak it all in, and savor for next season:

(De Ann Argle, BLOG COMMENTS): As much as I would love to say that the 5 OT game killed our 7:00 PM ferry reservation we had no choice but to leave after the 2nd OT period. We frantically (those not driving) searching for a way to listen to the rest of the game on the radio… that is not one of my favorite moments. The one that sticks out the most is this last season on the Monday afternoon game (drawing a blank on which team we played) but… The puck was down in our (ice box side) end of the ice and Foote (I believe) and Riley Sutter were jousting with each other and Foote came up under Riley’s stick and it flew out of his hands. Riley went and quickly grabbed his stick and got back in position and he did the same thing right back to Foote. What makes it so memorable and one of my most memorable moments is the look on Riley’s face after he looked at the ref to see if he was going to get called on it. Well the look of pure delight and a bit of revenge was awesome! I can still see it to this day!

(Twitter):

 

(Facebook – worth the click – the responses are really good): 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Those Magic Moments


One of the many reasons I appreciate sports is the opportunity to put anything in life aside for 2.5 hours a night to enjoy the simple unfolding of a story in the spirit of competition.

In other words, it traces back to a simple quote once heard from the late Howard Cosell:

“Sports is the toy department of life.”

We enjoy this game for many different reasons:

  1. The evolution of a hockey centerpiece in downtown (Everett is now 14 years relevant within).
  2. The opportunity to share with a friend, “I knew him when …” (Hamill/Mueller/Gudas/Juulsen?/Hart?)
  3. The surge of “good feelings” through your veins as you walk into XFINITY Arena with anticipation.
  4. Seeing friends from the seats you’ve come to know well over the years (I’m not shilling at all, but this happens a lot with season tickets).
  5. How different the game looks, feels, sounds, on an upgraded experience compared to just merely watching it on television. It’s that more vibrant, it’s that more vivid, it’s that more effervescent.

You may have more reasons why you enjoy this game. Or a moment from this past season that will stay with you forever.

I’ll always remember my first experience at an NHL game: 1993-94 at the Great Western Forum, behind the net, and watching Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings take on 18-year old Jason Arnott and the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky scored his 803rd career goal that day. Arnott belted a slapper from the left circle for the game’s first goal.

I’ll always remember the 5 overtime record marathon: searching for word economy amidst a water shortage, feeling a surge through my body while delivering the goal call, and balancing a schedule that threatened killed the 9pm ferry that night … with my wife and son on the trip (more on that soon).

I shared mine, so I’d love to hear yours.

I want to reward your input.

I want to hear from you.

I’ve got a Carter Hart autographed hat on hand (trust me, he signed it right before my very eyes the day after the season ended) and will save that for a lucky friend who chimes in. How you do it:

  1. Comment below
  2. Tweet a reply to me from this story post
  3. Comment on the Tips Facebook page: we’ll have it posted there.

Your awesome answers coming later this week, in a “top moments of” post.

And as always, thanks for keeping in tune (and for listening!).

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

 

The Ingredients of a Magical 5th U.S. Division Title


Standing along the ice last Saturday night moments before the annual Tips Awards Ceremony, and gazing at the electrified crowd of nearly 8,000 souls completely going crazy for a U.S. Division title, I couldn’t help but manufacture one appropriate word to summarize this incredible ride:

“Magical.”

How magical, you say?

Let’s start with local prognostications, everywhere including the words “favorites to repeat, with or without Barzal,” in description of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who in 2015-16 raced ahead of the Silvertips in the final three weeks of the regular season to take the U.S. Division title and then reach the WHL Finals.

The Silvertips? They came into this season as one of the youngest teams in the league. They lost four of their top six scorers from last season. By end of this season, they were still young – though the addition of Dominic Zwerger and Aaron Irving took them out of the “age basement.”

Yet consider the evidence:

  • They were the among the bottom four youngest teams in the Western Conference (by end of the season: 14 players on the roster were 98-born or younger). Two of those bottom four, Spokane and Vancouver, missed the playoffs.
  • By weight, they were one of the lightest teams in the Western Conference (heaviest? Seattle).
  • By height, they were one of the smallest teams in the Western Conference (biggest? Prince George).
  • They lost nearly 180 man games due to injury or World Junior Championships.

So how does this division title happen, outside the obvious element of warrior mentality?

  • GOALTENDING! Carter Hart – NHL property of the Philadelphia Flyers – was 32-11-6-2 with 9 bagels and tied the league’s best with a .927 save percentage.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS! The Tips penalty kill was best in the WHL this season. Their power play finished at 20.7 percent (very good efficiency numbers) – third best in Tips history – and torched their way through the final week, 8-of-24 at one point.
  • DEPTH! There were four guys who hit the 20-goal plateau (Bajkov, Zwerger, Fonteyne, Sutter) this season. Aaron Irving and Eetu Tuulola had 18. And … (*drumroll*) 18 guys were +1 or better.
  • COACHING! Kevin Constantine surpassed 300 wins – all with the Silvertips. Among winning percentage of coaches with four years or more in the WHL, he has the sixth best win percentage in league history (the only ones higher: Ryan Huska, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Johnston, Dunc McCallum, and Dave Lowry). Mitch Love’s defensemen teamed with the forward corps to allow only 2.3 goals per game, fewest in the WHL. We covered his penalty kill already. Brennan Sonne’s power play ranked in the league’s top ten nearly all year.

Starting in the summer of 2012 with general manager Garry Davidson overseeing the selection of the ’97 born draft class (think: Juulsen, Davis, Bajkov, Fonteyne), and culminating at the developing talent in the Silvertips dressing room under Constantine’s watch, the Tips have molded division titles in two of the last three seasons under a spectacularly coordinated array of moving parts. Or in other words, to quote the ancient Chinese proverb, “one finger cannot lift pebble.”

Banners are won throughout a 72-game process of blood, sweat, tears, analysis, and even some bounces along the way. It’s a division title that didn’t happen by accident. It happened, as once again, everything coming together.

Now it’s onto the playoffs: where anything can happen. I completely remember assistant coach Mitch Love’s heavy words of how “tight” the dressing room was this year. It was pretty evident that something special had been brewing.

We can’t predict how the playoffs will go. The point gap between the first and eighth place team in the Western Conference finished just 20 points apart, the smallest deficit since the Tips began play 14 seasons ago. This would be like trying to play darts with limp spaghetti.

One thing we can do: sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. Friday night is almost here.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Holiday Movies, Ranked


December delivers a parade of lifestyle options for an eight day period of no games, no practices, no trades, and no obligations (for on ice matters).

It’s called the holiday break. It’s much desired.

At the moment, the Silvertips carry first place in the U.S. Division and are one point behind top record in the entire league: for Snohomish County, a warming holiday reality.

The mind settles, the body relaxes. On our last Hockey Show on Tuesday before the Christmas and New Year holiday, Brian King said he’s sleeping in a little more (as a part of the 99 and 00-born group, it means no early morning school commitments). Kevin Constantine, out with family to the San Juan Islands, takes mind-unwinding walks or could be chopping wood at the moment.

The front office has departed until boxing day, meaning yours truly files this blog from the comforts of kitchen, whilst snow layers on the crisp evergreens and grass outside in the backyard (I’ll stop before this begins to sound more like the opening scene to a Hallmark Movie).

NHL Network is on the tube at times (yes, two-year old Lukas has already begun to request it). But you need some “downtime.” The flicks, as you may relate to, are an ideal way to soak in the time. Ranked below, as from this side of the computer screen:

(Don’t judge) …

  1. White Christmas
  2. Christmas Vacation (National Lampoon)
  3. Home Alone 2
  4. Home Alone, the original
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life
  6. Miracle on 34th Street
  7. The Santa Clause
  8. Christmas Story
  9. Holiday Inn
  10. Muppet Christmas Carol

World Junior Championships featuring Hart + Juulsen ramp up on Boxing Day, and the first place Tips starring Bajkov, Fonteyne, Petit, Davis, et al are back to action the next evening in Langley, BC.

(And, for you Hockey Show friends … we’re back at Sporty’s on Jan. 3).

Until then, don’t let the egg nog or your spirits go bad. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

The Vin Scully “I Know”

Let me start by reaffirming that the page you’re reading is a hockey blog. It’s meant to detail, disseminate and deliver stories from the hockey world, in between broadcasts.

But what you’re reading is partially inspired by not just a great voice, but an icon. And that icon is retiring the mic this season, and leaving everyone who leant an ear to the speakers with a flood of memories. That icon made an impact on not just those working in baseball, but across the entire sports landscape.

That icon is Vin Scully.

The figure who inspired me will leave the booth forever after he signs off in the Los Angeles Dodgers regular season finale at San Francisco on Oct. 2. It compelled me to pour out my heart and explain the Vin Scully “I know,” like crystalizing a warm, gentle, wise and incredibly articulate family member. Except he wasn’t a part of my family. He felt like it, though. And there are few people in many lives that influence decisions on a career path. He was one of them.

I wanted to be Vin Scully.

I was one of hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of kids who pretended to go to sleep just to satisfy mom and dad, when truth be told I was sneaking a radio under my covers just to listen to him clean up the ninth inning. I was mimicking Orel Hershiser in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom to their mirror, while the game blasted on 790 KABC-AM.

I was glued to the TV when he would lyricize each image on KTTV and KTLA. I rewound the 1988 World Series VHS tape a thousand times, copying every lyric he and Joe Garagiola articulated on a spur-of-the-moment script carried out on NBC (I don’t know how long it’ll last, but there’s a full length version now on YouTube).

It’s the tone, diction, and countenance of Vin who creates motherlode of appointment viewing/listening. He is timeless. Of course, over time, a broadcaster learns to cultivate his own genuine personality, and not copy his role models. But over time, his fundamentals remain the root of my broadcast philosophy (talk “with the listener,” not “at the listeners” – notice the change to plural in the latter).

This reaffirmed in my only personal, one-on-one encounter with him that will be one of the greatest highlights of my life, let alone in my career.

It lasted three days, in the summer of 2000, as a production intern for Fox Sports West (they had the Dodgers rights for years until forming their own network, SportsnetLA). As an intern, in part to the educational experience, at every sporting event in the greater Los Angeles area they covered you’re given the “option” of shadowing:

  • Personnel in the production truck and leaning about the bells and whistles
  • The broadcasters, stage manager, and statistician in the broadcast booth

Three Dodger games were coming up on the schedule. I admired the honest, hard-working individuals in the truck, but this was like getting a chance to watch Picasso paint inside his studio. Vin, please.

I didn’t talk to him (nor, have any ounce of courage to do so) that first night. On night #2 (June 26), inside a hot, cramped, but historic Dodger Stadium broadcast booth, I give him a “hello” nod and he returned the favor (a lot was happening – it happened to be Orel’s last game in his Major League career).

Side note: I’ll never forget the silent exchange Vin had with former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter (handling radio that night), who took the time to drop into Vin’s TV booth after Hershiser was pulled by manager Davey Johnson. Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation. All it took was for Ross to stare at Vin, and Vin to return the favor for a few seconds of silence to understand the gravity. We all realized Orel had emptied the tank.

On night #3, a couple of weeks later, I finally worked up the courage. Leaving Vin’s booth to use the restroom in the Dodger Stadium press box after the game, I returned to the dining hall quarters to find Vin sitting down over a cup of coffee with his stage manager, Boyd Robertson.

I thought “this is now or never, so let’s do this.” I walked up and found opportunity to tactfully interrupt Vin’s conversation when he made eye contact with me. And it was the most errantly fumbled introduction I ever had. I was legitimately starstruck.

“Excuse me Mi—Mister Scully …  pardon me …”

Vin (with a smile and in his familiar and elegantly soothing tone): “hi son, how are you doing?”

Did that ever release the pressure valve.

We exchanged names, “pleased to meet yous”, the short “get to know you,” and I explained to the greatest about THE GREATEST three days of my whole life getting an educational experience from a figure I looked up to since I was eight years old. And now interning for Fox Sports West, hopefully it’s a springboard to a career he served as an inspiration.

Vin: “terrific Mike, I am very glad to hear it! Welcome aboard, It’s great to have you here!”

Feeling compelled to let him go and return to his one-on-one conversation, I thanked/apologized for any interruptions, and got into my car for the drive home from Dodger Stadium on one of the greatest adrenaline highs of my whole life. It’s often said, “don’t meet your heroes – you’ll be disappointed,” but this is one example couldn’t have turned out any better, short of him inviting me for lunch the next day (I probably would have fainted).

Experience taken, immediately to heart. What I learned about Vin Scully that night, on a deeper level, is the root of his “charm.” It’s genuine. It’s what delivered the obvious and seemingly natural connection with every listener for decades. Even though you’re separated by a TV screen or a radio apparatus, you feel like it’s just you and Vin in the room, enjoying the game together.

Case in point: you know how Vin makes each call so incredibly intimate, even though it’s just him, on-air in the booth? He relies on others in the booth who are off the air. For instance, Vin’s line of communication is transmitted as sheer “broadcaster-to-listener,” but he looks at the stage manager, statistician, or others as he shares a story – as if he’s talking with THEM. That enhances his tone of voice. I consider it my “a-ha” moment.

Not to mention, his scorebook is about the size of a Marcel Proust novel. He is an expert at the game. He does his homework.

I admire Vin Scully.

It’s his kind of on-air style, the “intimate, storytelling, engaging” figure that serves as my backbone and I hope continues to live on. It taught me about the importance of a listener, as if they’re already a friend (and the bonus to meet them in real life). Your responsibility is to manufacture an “on air” relationship, and give the details.

Sure, there’s less time in hockey to review in detail what Carter Hart routinely eats for breakfast, comparable to when Vin shared a story of Madison Bumgarner killing a snake to save a baby rabbit.  As recent as 20 years ago, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way to find out the score and “how it happened” (now we have the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, etc … in addition to the good ol’ fashioned AM/FM/XM dial!). But the timeless standard that carries on is Vin’s genuine, friendly, and inviting charisma that offers you to “pull up a chair” for each broadcast.

The men and women who hold a microphone and talk with you still matter. People still watch or listen to a game simply because it’s 2-3 hour live theatre at its best, and they still want to relate to and enjoy the presence of other people.

The games are a never-ending book of humanity. It needs the ultimate narrator. That’s Vin Scully.

He’s got only a few weeks left until his entire career rides into the sunset. And aside from holding out hope the Dodgers release a “Best of Vin Scully’s Games” on Blu-Ray, I feel satisfied/happy/fulfilled to have experienced three decades of his on-air masterpiece that left an impression on me as a listener, and three unforgettable nights that made a difference in my career, forever.

I will forever remember Vin Scully.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Tweet at him here.

(Photo credit: Dominic DiSaia)